In the history of western art, there is a simple timeline up to the 20th Century. Then it gets complicated. Art starts like this:
1. Prehistory - Cave painting and tribal art. This was world wide, and evidence shows it goes back as far as 35,000 years. It's important because it provides clues about what life was like back then, people's interests, and their perspective. We can only imagine why they made these things, if they were decorative or religious in nature, etc.
Three important points:
1. Cave painting & tool making are what first separated us from animals. Making tools was practical, but why did we start painting?
2. This isn't all they produced - this is all that's survived. If you were to go back in time, you'd probably find art like this everywhere.
3. People all over the world painted in caves, and it all looks fairly similar, even when separated by 1000's of years. Why? Is this evidence of one enduring culture, or do they reflect universal needs and desires, that repeat themselves throughout history?
2. Antiquities - Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome/Classical, Byzantium (6,000BC-500AD)- Sculptures, buildings, murals, jewelry, and artefacts to create cultural identity, and preserve state history.
3. Dark/Middle Ages (500-1100AD) - Castles, monastaries, illuminated (painted) books, crosses, murals, reliqueries.
4. Gothic (1100-1200) - Cathedrals with vaulted arches and flying buttresses, more of the same.
5. Rennaissance/Mannerist (1300-1550) - first celebrity artists, realistic (naturalistic) images, the realism of Antiquities combines with symmetry and balance of Celtic design, to depict religious stories and Greek mythology. Introduction of Linear Perspective. The Renaissance centered in Italy because Italy had the most Roman artifacts to rediscover and learn from.
6. Baroque (1550-1700) - 100's of artists liked Michelangelo so much they copied him for 200 years - dramatic poses, emphasizing mastery of anatomy. Also artists like Caravaggio exaggerated light and dark, similar to a theatre, to heighten the drama of the scene. Note, up until now, artists started as apprentices to a master, in a workshop. This tradition still continues, but during the Baroque, cities began the first Academies, dedicated to teaching art.
7. Dutch Golden Age Masters (1550-1700) - the Protestant reformation stopped artists from painting for churches, so they changed to everyday scenes of housemaids, pubs, landscapes, and seascapes.
7. Rococo (1640-1790) - The French got tired to copying the old-fashioned, Italian Baroque style so they tweaked it to emphasize even more decorations, delicacy, dainty clothes, and how rich they all were. They painted lots of aristocrats having parties. Note this is the first time since cave paintings we've mentioned the French.
8. Neoclassical/Academic (1790-1850) - The French had a revolution, killed all the rich, and wanted to transform their society and modernize into a republic. Then they reconsidered and looked to Napoleon Bonaparte to create a new empire. Then that failed. Artists had a very hard time. They had to please different kinds of people as they came into power. Revolutionaries hated the aristocracy, so Rococo was unpopular, but they were very nationalist, so they wanted France to be great. So artists had to create new ways to show that greatness without looking Rococo. They mainly decided to copy Roman and Renaissance art and architencture, hence "neo" (new) classicism.
An important artist at this time was Jacques-Louis David. His name is synonymous with Neoclassicism. Look how his art changed over time:
9. Romantic/Academic (1790-1850) - A dramatic style applied to real life/historical/literary paintings, emphasizing drama, emotion, orientalism, and natural beauty over classical logic and reason.
10. Impressionism/Modernism (1840-1930) - Artists began to reject the academies (which also rejected the Impressionists) as they started to paint outdoors, portraying modern, industrial scenes, capturing outdoor light and colors accurately, while ignoring details. This is the beginning of abstraction as a means of expressing the artists' identity, leaving realism for photographs, which became popular with the invention of the Daguerreotype in 1838.
There are also thousands of great American Impressionists, but I don't want to overwhelm you, so here are at least four:
And then what happened? Well, ask art critic/comedian Brad Holland. Click the name, and if you don't understand a joke, ask me in class, or here in a comment.